An Optimists Guide to 2012

Butch to Sundance, “What’s the matter with you?”

“I can’t swim.”

“Ha, what are you crazy? The fall alone is probably gonna kill ya.”

Ever the optimist, Butch talks Sundance into leaping off the side of a mountain into a raging river hundreds of feet below.

Butch and I are kindred spirits. I’m upbeat and good humored most of the time, and I can usually find a reason to be positive.

Just because I’m an optimist doesn’t mean that I am unaware of a dire situation. And, we too have gone over a cliff of sorts. This will be the year we had all better learn to swim.

In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Dr. Steven Covey says the first habit is proactivity.

“When we are finally prepared to accept full responsibility for the effects that are manifest in our lives; when we have the strength of character to admit it when we make mistakes (even big ones); when we are completely free to exercise the options available to us in every situation; then it can be said that we have finally internalized this habit. The other six of the habits require that we first work on our basic character by becoming proactive and thereby transforming ourselves into men and women of integrity.”

For that to occur, we must be realistic about our situation.

We are not. For me, this is where the frustration and fear sets in. Our politicians and media will not even have an honest discussion about what has happened to America, let alone discuss any solutions. We have to start to unravel this mess before anything can change.

Without a plan, where will the jobs come from? What is the truth about the Euro and what it means to us?

Our situation is this: the status quo is unsustainable and the future is becoming painfully clear.

After a year like 2011, there is a tendency to think that maybe 2012 can be different—a new year and a new start… except we are bringing all of the underlying problems with us into the New Year with no solutions in sight.

And, despite being in the middle of the election circus, little of the campaign has focused on solutions to the real problems facing Americans. Why? Precisely because things are going so well for the people in charge.

Mitt Romney told someone who was asking him questions to “get a job”, and he is the leading candidate. It isn’t creative or original, and it sure suggests a disconnect. At the very least, hypocritical. As head of Bain Capital, he specialized in gutting companies and laying off their employees. Now, he’s the front runner. C’mon man!

Herman Cain was a perfect example of not having a clue.

Fortunately, he’s back home helping the missus pack and working out the final details of a very lucrative settlement with what I’m betting is one pretty icy woman.

Herman, you old dog, you. Your arrogance and willingness to take full credit for your own good fortune has reaped you just what you sowed—a lot of angry exes. Good luck. Have a nice life.

His callousness toward the real suffering of average Americans and, in particular, people of color isn’t unique to politicians; he was just so arrogant he thought he could come right out and say it.

As I look into 2012, I see austerity impacting more and more people as the economy continues to decline. You may think it won’t touch you, but you could not be more wrong.

The Euro will collapse and take American banks down. I did the math. No, I mean I really did the math. I’m not just saying that; I really did the math. I crunched the numbers.

The first thing I learned is that your standard issue Casio SL-300Ve just doesn’t have the horses to get it done. A job of this magnitude requires all of the torque one can pack into a calculator. This was clearly a job for Big Red, the Official Calculator of the National Debt.

A typical calculator will only go to eight digits. But, what you need to figure this out is 16 digits. That’s right, to measure the ponziness of the global bubble you need a calculator that can go to quadrillions.

Most folks don’t have one, and living on five figures, most never thought they would need one, but its very existence raises a question that goes right to the heart of the matter.

You can add up all of the stuff on the planet, about $50 trillion in cash and another $115 trillion in real estate, equities, gem stones, precious metals, art, and personal property, and you only need fifteen digits.

But, the amount of money tied to derivatives has been reported by the World Bank of Settlements as totaling as much as a quadrillion or thousand trillion or 16 digits.

That’s about six times the value of everything on earth and, yet, derivatives themselves have no real value of their own.

Derivatives are investment vehicles whose value is not their own but based on, therefore derived from, something else.

Banks all over the world hold trillions upon trillions of made-up assets that, by their sheer volume, could exist nowhere on the planet.

All of the so called loan pools are empty shells with nothing in them but phony paper and promises. Seriously.

Pension funds? Ditto.

So much for the optimistic part. On the downside, everything else is pretty well fucked, too.

Government services are being reduced at every level, and because there are no jobs being created, this will continue for years to come.

Crime is rising dramatically, but there aren’t the resources to respond to it. Murder/suicides are up due to financial problems. More law enforcement officers are being injured and killed.

We have 18.5 million vacant homes and 3.5 million homeless people. The economy is the measure of the effectiveness of the distribution of goods and services.

By the measures that matter most our economy are on life support. And, the banks intend to foreclose ten million more homes, none of which they have any legal claim to.

How efficient is that? The recovery they keep referring to is a mirage; wishful thinking perhaps. Or maybe they believe that if they keep saying the economy is improving, sooner or later they have to be right. But, not this time.

The media has been reporting good news on the jobs front. But, I guess that just depends on your definition of “good”.

Everyone is pointing to the 200,000 jobs created in December as a sign that the economy is improving, but a closer look reveals just the opposite. Indeed, 200,000 new jobs are better than none, but we are still losing way more jobs than we are gaining.

If our jobs deficit were a gaping wound hemorrhaging jobs, all we have succeeded in doing is slowing the rate of blood loss; we haven’t stopped the bleeding and we haven’t closed the wound. Without emergency triage, the economy will eventually bleed itself to death.

Each week, between 380,000 and 420,000 American workers who used to have jobs file new claims for unemployment benefits. Last week it was down to 372,000, and you would think something actually happened.

According to the BLS, 200,000 new jobs were created in December. Bear in mind that each month 150,000 more people enter the workforce and 125,000 permits are issued to foreign workers. The only good news is that we aren’t losing jobs quite as fast, but we are still losing jobs, not creating them.

And, what about these 200,000 new jobs? Do they spell recovery or…nothing at all?

The biggest gainer in December was in transportation and warehousing with 50,000 new jobs. Sounds like a country on the move again; but wait, 42,000 of those were in the courier and messenger industry. That is a Christmas blip. Santa is a fantasy; someone has to deliver the presents. Now the elves go back to being unemployed for eleven months.

The retail sector was next with 28,000 jobs. Merry Christmas, hey, hey, goodbye.

Eating and drinking establishments were next with 24,000. Seasonal splurging perhaps?

Then the prickers, probers, pokers, and prodders euphemistically referred to as “Health Care” multiplied by 23,000.

Do you see a recovery in that?

Manufacturing added 23,000 jobs and that is the only bright spot I could find. Construction added no new jobs. A recovery doesn’t just happen like an earthquake; you can see it coming a long way off.

Twenty years ago, I wrote a piece about the jobs of the future in my community. We had major projects on the books that would bring high value jobs, residential construction, and a retail boom. And, it all unfolded just as I had written about it. We built a University, a new courthouse and a hospital. They brought the jobs.

But there is little planned for the future anywhere in the country that will stimulate job creation.

If we aren’t making something or building something we have no real economy.

So, now that we have faced the truth about our situation, what does an optimist do in response?

Fight back! We need to organize, we need to strategize, and we need to mobilize to force change.

But, we are being held back by our addictions. We are ill-informed, disinterested, lethargic and sick.

I don’t know when the bubble will burst, but burst it must, and there is one thing you can do, one positive step forward that you can take, one no risk high reward strategy that will prepare you for anything. I don’t know where you should put your money. I don’t know of any strategy that, when facing so much uncertainty, is worth pursuing but this: Get healthy!

Brothers and Sisters, heed me please. We have been super-sized and lobotomized by poisonous substances disguised as food. As a nation, we have succumbed to the oldest method of political control ever devised.

The ancient Romans had a name for it, Panem et circenses or bread and circuses.

Today we have McNuggets and reality TV. Did you ever imagine watching a program called “Desperate Housewives” anything?

My mother was a desperate housewife in the more traditional sense of the word. She had Multiple Sclerosis, a dead husband, no car, no money and two little kids. I don’t believe she ever had a manicure, and I know she didn’t do Europe.

The real desperation she felt at times wouldn’t make for very good television. Too real for reality.

And, there are all of the programs about people doing jobs that no longer exist. Angry morons working on an oil rig? Pawn shops? So many people are hocking stuff that pawn shops have not only gone main stream, the success of TV shows such as “Pawn Stars” and “Hardcore Pawn” suggest that people are amused watching other people sell off pieces of their lives. Rumor has it that Nickelodeon is about to launch a show about homeless kids selling off the stuff they can’t take with them, “Kiddie Pawn”.

Combined with the “food” that is marketed to us, there is ample opportunity to cause brain-rot. Over-weight, sedentary, poorly nourished, slowly poisoned, marginally educated people are passive, easy to control, and great candidates for prescription medication and surgery.

And the McNuggets? Only 50 percent of a McNugget is actually chicken. The other 50 percent includes corn derivatives, sugars, leavening agents and completely synthetic ingredients. Yum!

Federal Judge Robert Sweet in a lawsuit against the restaurant chain said:

“Chicken McNuggets, rather than being merely chicken fried in a pan, are a McFrankenstein creation of various elements not utilized by the home cook.”

And, God only knows how the chicken was raised. Genetically modified feed, hormone injections, antibiotics, and cannibalism cannot be good for the consumer.

You cannot cook that shit out in the crockpot. You eat it. It builds up in your system, and while your health deteriorates, you are more susceptible to powerful messages intended to hide the truth. And, who can even guess at the genetic risks a couple of generations from now.

We need to change. The greatest single thing you can do for those you love and those who depend on you is to be healthy.

Beyond that, we are entering a period of great upheaval, and you may need to be able to fend for yourself in ways you hadn’t imagined. Preparation is the key.

Optimism comes from knowing you are ready for anything.

We are all on a team now and we need to limit our resources to those who really need them, and everyone else has to be ready to play.

Being healthy is more than being unsick; it is an optimum state of being.

Your particular limitations, and we all have some, will determine to what degree you achieve that state, but it is important to remember that health is a journey, not a destination. We all deliberately do things that detract from our optimum health, but so do the inequities of life, and “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

Whatever you ate yesterday, you can eat something better today. Being out of shape is no reason to stay that way.

At a time when it seems that almost everything is beyond our control as individuals, this is your own domain.

In resistance training, there is a truism that applies to other areas as well. We say, “If you do the reps, you get the results.” It is so simple. No one can stop you once you understand this. If you ride the bike on a regular basis, you will get the benefit.

There are no magic pills you can take, no piece of equipment you can buy, no friend to make you do it.

There are no so-called diets that prove effective long term. If you deprive a body, the natural survival response is to store food as fat.

Many people who overeat may be responding to the absence of nutrients in the foods they are eating. Let’s change the terminology. What if, instead of dieting, we were power eating?

Isn’t that more appetizing? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

Power eating is the perfect partner for a lifetime of ever improving fitness because the nutrients support an active lifestyle and act together to discourage both over eating and inactivity. You’ll have the energy you need to be active, and also be getting the nutrients your body needs to recover and stay healthy.

You can still eat what you like, maybe just not the way you once did. Someone once said, “Some folks live to eat and others eat to live.”

Those of us who eat to live, love food just as much as the people who live to eat. We just aren’t willing to die for it.

Being active makes you hungry, but the difference is we think about what we eat. I don’t want to spend two hours at the gym and then put nuggets in my body. I know that I need certain things in my system to recover, and rebuild.

It is important to keep in mind that we are all works in progress, and as we have new understandings, we must allow ourselves to change in response.

Like Covey says, we have to be realistic about our circumstances. You are either on the path to optimum fitness or you are not. It isn’t a New Year’s resolution, it’s a New You resolution and it is for life.

The path to optimum fitness is a lifetime journey. One cheese burger, a brace of cocktails, or a week of lethargy makes little difference. One of the main reasons that I eat very selectively is that it allows me to eat pretty much whatever I want. I just ask myself before I commit to food or drink, “Do I really want this?”

I’ve been known, on occasion, to visit local brew pubs in search of refreshment. Whenever I drink, I eat. Quaffing a litre of something hoppy requires hearty fare. Should I have the Salmon, or the cheese burger?

I know what you are thinking. The Salmon has Omega-3 oil and is considered lean protein. And, you would be right.

But, this is the benefit of being proactive in terms of one’s health.

I got the cheeseburger because I will never eat a fast food burger. This place is located in a community that has a strong natural medicine influence, and the beef is local top quality, hormone free, etc. And, it is delicious. It is definitely the time and place for a cheeseburger.

Power eating suggests that I stop at the fish market and get that salmon for tomorrow, and that I eat plenty of fresh, whole fruits and vegetables in the meals to come. Power eating is about knowing what our body really wants and making conscious, informed choices.

Stuff masquerading as food is everywhere. Real food is a little harder to get. The problem with any behavior that is counter to our well-being is that we got into the habit of doing something before we began to think about it.

But, that is no reason to continue to play Russian roulette

If we have learned anything in fifty years of dieting, it is that it doesn’t work for most people. On the other hand, we have reinforced the obvious; to maintain a proper weight we must burn more calories than we consume. But, that alone doesn’t achieve optimum health.

Being healthy is a proactive response. Another reason diets fail is that they are based on the wrong idea…the idea of denial. We are not programmed to do a “don’t.

Changing behavior means replacing it with new behavior, not willpower. Replace bad eating habits with power eating, and sedentary behavior with activity and a fitness regime.

Power eating combined with resistance training and aerobic activity are the path to fitness. Yes, it takes planning to eat a healthy diet. Be proactive. Yes, you’ll have to make time to exercise. Be proactive.

Getting healthy is the way to respond to upheaval and deal with the stress. We must embrace the future as but another of life’s possible challenges. Our only options are to rise to the challenge or succumb to it.


George W. Mantor
The Real Estate Professor
Founder, American Foreclosure Resistance Movement

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” — Mahatma Gandhi